A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

ESC 2021: I say it because I care


In a statement to Aftonbladet's Torbjörn Ek, the EBU has responded to the questions raised around Moldova's odd-looking results from the televoting in the second semi final. 

The EBU maintains all votes have been verified by their partners and that the result is valid and that there will be no further investigation of the matter. So that's that.

We don't really know what this means, of course. Maybe it is EBU speak that means they have no intention to discuss the matter further in public. Maybe they will still bring this onto the agenda for future editions.

Of course it is a bit embarrassing that the EBU partners don't discover what looks like a clear case of vote manipulation. They didn't notice anything wrong in 2013 either, until several newspapers published stories on attempted manipulation.

The EBU is the body that organises this contest. They write the rules and decide upon the interpretation of those very rules. It is their right not to investigate if they feel there is no reason to.

However, I am not sure that Estonian viewers for instance will feel particularly inclined to vote in the future if their votes don't matter and are open to be tampered with.

It is also possible that Denmark lost their place in the final if the Moldovan delegation manipulated the votes. I don't think it will be easier convincing singers and songwriters to go into competition if there is even the slightest suspicion you can get booted out in favour of someone paying their way in.

I remember the 90's, when a small group of countries kept swapping points between them, year after year. Nothing was ever investigated or proven back then either but a very quick look on the voting patterns is enough to smell a rat.

I love this old song contest but one of its major foundations - just as important as the entries if not more - is trust. Why should viewers and producers and songwriters and broadcasters invest time and money and effort in a contest where bending the rules is fine?

I think not addressing this situation is the wrong way to go. I don't say it to annoy anyone but because I care. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

ESC 2021: Time to put the foot down

Italy finally got to win Eurovision while France and Switzerland got their finest placings in many a good day. Then happened several things that would obscure the vision and distract the press and everyone else.

There was the absurd allegation that the winning band would have been doing drugs doing the voting. The very idea that someone would engage in a criminal activity while surrounded by cameras during one of the most watched shows in the world is so dumb that everyone contributing to spreading this accusation should hang their heads in shame.

Then people have been trying to put words in Barbara Pravi's mouth that she would be bitter and disappointed to get beaten by Måneskin, something she had very actively denied on her own social media. 

Maybe now we can focus on the things we should have focused on as soon as all results were made public after the final: the very obvious case that something is very wrong concerning the points given to Moldova in the televote of the second semi final.

Moldova had a fun song admittedly but in spite of an outright mediocre vocal performance, the detailed voting information shows a jaw-dropping eight countries awarded top marks to them. Some of these are countries that are notoriously easy to swing if you are inclined to do vote manipulation.

After the 2013 Azerbaijan vote manipulation scandal, the EBU reluctantly looked into the matter and promised to take action if there was anything that looked suspicious.

The Moldova case does not just look suspicious, it sets all the alarm lights flashing. Philipp Kirkorov and his team are no strangers to manipulating their way to victory in the Moldovan final. Now it would be about time to have a deep look into vote manipulation. Again. And slap some people with a participation ban.

There is probably no idea to put a ban on Moldova. Their broadcaster is a small one with a strained budget and it hardly has the means to manipulate the televotes in other countries.

All the figures should be examined (as well as some really odd jury scores too - hello, Bulgaria!) and if there has been any vote manipulation going on (and it sure looks like it) all the people involved - the so-called Dream Team - should be banned from participating.

The Eurovision Song Contest is like playing Trivial Pursuit: it really is just a game but as soon as somebody starts cheating and disregarding the rules the fun ends and nobody wants to play anymore. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

ESC 2021: Italy rocked Eurovision - at last


Four hours of Eurovision final later and it finally paid off to be Italy and continuously enter top talent - their biggest names that have already conquered the Sanremo festival. If that's not a seal of approval, I don't know what would be.

My prediction went pretty well in the end as well. My predicted top four all had a top five finish, only not in the order I thought. 

I'm honestly a bit disappointed it wasn't to be Switzerland in the end. A shame that Gjon's Tears didn't hit home more with the viewers. But for him, as a new talent, a third place is a sensational result. Maybe better than a victory in the long run.

Switzerland and France (and the entire top six, in fact) showed that the old cliché is true: if you are yourself, work hard, do your best and have a bit of luck nothing is impossible. Now I hope especially France will remember this moment and not let their momentum slip. I want to see a French victory in the next few years.

Finland's sixth place is our second best showing ever (shared with Marion in 1973). Now the big task is to show we can do well with other types of music than rock. How about some excellent dark electropop next year?

Malta took over Sweden's old stunt of getting lots of points from the juries and then very little from the viewers. If you look at the the top six again, I think Malta would do better to kick the habit of buying songs from foreign songwriters and go for local talent instead. 

Maybe let local songwriters work together with some more internationally renowned name? Worked really well for Switzerland. The same lesson could apply to Cyprus, Azerbaijan and San Marino too.

If I almost nailed the top four, I unfortunately also got the bottom two correctly. I thought the UK had really ruined their chances with that staging but nul points? That was very harsh.

Which brings me to one thing I really want to change for coming years. The current way of reading out the televote results really makes the segment awkward and puts an enormous focus on individual failure. It also becomes difficult to keep track of who was actually the viewer favourite.

Go back to the old system: read the televotes quickly, in ascending order. Read the bottom 16 quickly and don't dwell on who gets nul points. It wasn't particularly pleasant to see Gjon's Tears sweat and sweat and then get disappointed. This voting sequence would have been really dramatic anyway as televote winner Italy would storm up the board and win.

But next year in Torino, right? Let's hope that event will be a bit easier to organise.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

ESC 2021: Tobson takes a final guess


Soon it will be over. The first ESC in two years is about to begin. And end. And we will have ourselves a new winner.

I wouldn't be me if I didn't take a final shot at predicting the results. 

Every year I write something about how open the contest feels and how so many different countries could actually win. The more unusual thing this year is that while it is wide open, the number of potential winners is smaller than in many years. I'd say there are four countries that could actually take the trophy.

Of course it all comes down to things we can't really touch or foresee. It is more a battle of genres than a battle of songs. Can a noisy rock song actually win? Can a piece of apocalyptic folkloristic rave win? Can a sensitive young man with a sensitive song win two contests in a row? Can that French chanson actually win despite French chansons being totally helpless in the voting for the past two decades or so?

And is there a song that I have written off that is capable of surprising us? Lithuania? Malta?

It is more crowded down in the bottom of the results. There are quite a few songs that the juries really should not be voting for, based on vocal capacities, bits and pieces taken from already existing songs and so on. Will the jury keep anyone on zero tonight? Several songs, perhaps?

Here goes. My final prediction is that tonight's final will end like this:

01. Switzerland, 02. Ukraine, 03. Italy, 04. France, 05. Lithuania, 06. Bulgaria, 07. Malta, 08. Russia, 09. Iceland, 10. Netherlands, 11. Finland, 12. San Marino, 13. Greece, 14. Serbia, 15. Spain, 16. Portugal, 17. Albania, 18. Sweden, 19. Belgium, 20. Cyprus, 21. Moldova, 22. Norway, 23. Israel, 24. Azerbaijan, 25. Germany, 26. United Kingdom.  

As per usual, you can find me on Twitter, commenting on the action as the drama unfolds.

ESC 2021: The final changes everything


The same story every year: we speculate and speculate until we go blue in the face and yet - the running order in the final will change everything. Whatever seemed likely and plausible and sometimes even inescapable only a few days ago: the landscape has changed. Everything looks different now.

For the last three contests in a row, Christer Björkman has been responsible for the running order and you can tell. He has a very good eye for this and makes excellent sequencing but it is also refreshing to have someone else do it. Tonight's running order is less predictable and that is a good thing.

The running order also clearly puts a few former favourites clearly out of the running. Their new position sometimes underlines what they were lacking to begin with, in other cases it just accidentally puts some in the shade. 

These are my new, quick reviews of tonight's 26 finalists and my new grades, based on what I have heard and seen this week.

A brilliant opener - clean, understandable and energetic. It will do its Lady Gaga impression with poise and easy and people will like it. And then they will forget it as stronger entries come into view. Clearly a fallen favourite.
Grade: 2/5

Will vocally blow Cyprus off the stage. Simple and tasteful and easier to grasp than many other Albanian entries. Being number two isn't necessarily the kiss of death and this could do at least as well as Albania usually does - anything higher than 16th place is better than usual.
Grade: 4/5

A smooth number and the whistle notes are a joy, but the song in itself is a tiny bit too slick and anonymous to stand out. Would need a lot more energy than it had in the semi to stand out.
Grade: 2/5

On Tuesday, this was a pleasant break from all the pop songs and all the dance routines and stage theatrics. Tonight, the break comes a bit too early. People are still in the mood to be thrilled, not calmed down, and this won't stand out like it could have later in the running. 
Grade: 3/5

Wonky and wacky and that first gigantic dress will leave an impression. Vocally flawless but the song is pretty demanding for a first listen. It will also get upstaged by more outstanding visuals later on. Could get bonus points for message but is nowhere near a victory.
Grade: 2/5

If Malta felt like the obvious winner for many during the run-up to the contest, I feel their hopes have crumbled now. They should have crumbled already in the semi final, honestly. Destiny is fabulous and the song is a fun little number, but ultimately it feels more like the Melodifestivalen reject it really is than a potential winner. Top ten probably but that's as far as it goes.
Grade: 3/5

I love Portugal and could never not be happy about them being successful. But. I don't get this at all. Competent but dull, and when I found out what the lyrics are about I like it even less, honestly. Being the first male vocalist of the evening could help, but they will clearly fight it out with Belgium over the "real music"-vote tonight.
Grade: 1/5

Belgrade's own Destiny's Child storm the stage and shake everything their mothers, designers and hair artists gave them. Three fun minutes but the performance is a tad too much out of sync to hit home big time. A bigger hit in future Euroclubs than in the voting.
Grade: 3/5

The left-hand-finish some British fans dreamed of when this song was first released would always have been a difficult goal to obtain. With these staging and styling choices, all hope is lost. What is the matter with the country that used to be the obvious centre of pop culture in Europe? A strong contender for last place.
Grade: 1/5

I have to give credit where credit is due: Stefania is a lot better on stage than I expected her to be and she fills the potholes in this song with ease. However, the green screen trickery is distracting and looks nowhere near as good as the people in charge thinks it does. This would have been so much better, had it had a focused performance and no pointless hocus pocus.
Grade: 3/5

Bam! After three upbeat songs, Switzerland comes in with temper, depth and gravity. Felt like a winner in the semi final and if Gjon's Tears delivers like he did then, this must be a top three contender. On a level of its own compared to all songs coming before it.
Grade: 5/5

In the semi final I finally saw what everyone else have seen, I suppose. This is likeable and really well performed but won't get anywhere near a victory. Having a winner that can't collect the trophy would be a real anticlimax anyway.
Grade: 3/5

The song nobody believes in and I don't see why. Blas is a good singer with a pleasant presence and the song is an old-fashioned ESC ballad in a good way. If that jury is to be of any use this year, they should acknowledge talent and craftmanship and help this one along a bit.
Grade: 4/5

A fun and lightweight pop number in a glamourous package is always a welcome sight, but in the semi final this was anything but easy on the ears. Could and should find itself in the lower regions of the result tonight.
Grade: 2/5

Happy and colourful and positive but also preachy and a bit grating. Like a school lecture on how not to be a bully set to VERY cheerful music. It will put you in a good mood but also outstays its welcome by being basically one single idea repeated and repeated and repeated ad nauseam.
Grade: 2/5

For a moody rock band, it is the perfect place to come in after two lightweight happy songs and change the mood completely. All I hear is still a poor man's Linkin' Park but if the pop entries split the other votes between them, there could possibly be room for two rock entries in the top ten this year.
Grade: 2/5

The mood whiplash is complete when Bulgaria takes the whole thing down with their intimate and emotional little number. One of few entries this year that brought a prop that actually works and doesn't detract from the song. 
Grade: 4/5

One of the songs that seem to have lost all its buzz during the week. I think its obvious TikTok-appeal could work in its favour and that we could see a small surprise tonight. I would love for Lithuania to at least better their personal best, but this could be the one everyone is underestimating so far.
Grade: 4/5

The complete power outburst of the first semi but also Ukraine by the numbers: every single detail is fine-tuned and works wonders on television. I doubt it is what the EBU hopes for but this is one very possible winner in this final.
Grade: 5/5

This is the one moment where the producers weren't thinking. There are two songs that build up to an explosive climax and that go full accelerando in the end and they are placed neck to neck in the running? Maybe France will feel like an oasis after Ukraine but it could also be the viewers are nowhere near ready to take this in at this point. Did the producers just wrestle a potential victory out of the hands of France?
Grade: 4/5

They made it to the final - as they almost always do - but coming after five contenders in a row, this bleak little pop ditty should have pretty little working in its favour. Would have made more sense to put this between Ukraine and France to give the audience a moment to breathe.
Grade: 1/5

Azerbaijan and Norway neck to neck? I hope that doesn't mean the producers are buying into the silly - and truth be told slightly creepy and unpleasant - media stunt of the "romance" between the two singers? The song is pleasant and the visuals stay in the memory of the viewers, but this is where I think the whole package is beginning to wear thin. 
Grade: 2/5

The best entry of a host country since Frans (or if that wasn't your cup of tea, since Lena in Düsseldorf) and hopefully one the jury will recognise and vote for extensively. A bold statement that would deserve top ten but that will probably have to settle for a bit less.
Grade: 4/5

The sheer energy of that guitar intro shows exactly where this is leading: energetic verses and a noisy chorus leading into one heck of a bridge. Attitude and looks and basically taking what The Ark did wrong and doing it right instead. Is it finally time for Italy to win or is it ultimately a tiny bit too much?
Grade: 4/5

"A dream position in the running order" according to the Swedish press as well as the Swedish delegation. I'd say this is the point where the audience is running out of attention span and where you have to be extremely gripping in order to get anyone to vote for you. This is the year when Sweden is clearly lacking momentum. Lately, Swedish entries have been attracting jury votes but struggled to convince the viewers. Prepare for the first right-hand finish since 2013.
Grade: 2/5

A good entry to close the whole line-up: a bit of a circus number where the main performer gets a bit too caught up in the whole act, gets swept away and comes across as a bit frantic - only to be saved by a bit of Rent-A-Rap Star in the end. Amusing and fascinating. Not a contender for anything else than San Marino's best showing to date, which is frankly more than good enough.
Grade: 2/5

Whatever you make of the songs, you will surely not find yourself bored in front of your screens tonight. Give me a little more time and you'll have my final prediction about who the winner is. It's not an easy pick to make, is it?

Friday, May 21, 2021

Tobson speaks up: ESC 2021, the six finalists

Sometimes, when you are in the middle of something - like the Eurovision week - it is difficult if not impossible to stop and take a step back and remember what you really thought about a song. Before you got the stagewear, the performance, the singing ability, the results. All of that.

That's why I decided to review all the songs before the shows started. This very blog post was written on Tuesday and I have no idea who the shock qualifiers and the jaw-dropping non-qualifiers are. But here are my views on the six songs that had a free ticket into the final: the Big Five as well as the host country.

SPAIN Blas Cantó / Voy a quédarme
A good voice, a likeable singer and very old-fashioned Eurovision ballad. Being old-fashioned isn't necessarily a bad thing and this one has grown on me a lot since it was selected, a bit like "Quédate conmigo" did back in 2012. Generally expected to flop big time in the final, I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Could there be a bunch of jurors out there who really enjoy this sort of simplicity and handicraft? Not impossible.
Grade: 4/5

UNITED KINGDOM James Newman / Embers
Hailed by many as a British return to form, I'm afraid I can't fully share the enthusiasm. It is different from anything the BBC has offered us in a long time, and it could have sounded like a hit single with a fresher production. But it still feels really empty. Like a cardboard cutout of a star instead of a real star. The left-hand finish the UK fans so badly long for would be a big surprise for me.
Grade: 1/5

FRANCE Barbara Pravi / Voilà
The universe works in mysterious ways and when Portugal won it was with a style they had offered many times before. They hadn't changed but the audience was suddenly open for it. It seems to be the same thing with France - one of the hot favourites to win - who have certainly offered us songs in a similar style without booking a victory since 1977. This is a intimate yet rousing chanson that could feel genuine enough to do the trick in case all the other top candidates steal each other's thunder and split the points between them. But I won't believe it until I see it.
Grade: 4/5

GERMANY Jendrik / I Don't Feel Hate
Sometimes when you hear a short but brilliant piece of music - like the fabulous "Agatha All Along" from WandaVision, for instance - you wish it could have been a full song instead of just a jingle or a piece of theme music. The truth is you wouldn't want that at all. A jingle is just a jingle. A theme song is just a theme song. And Germany's fun little plea against online hate is really just a jingle too. It has exactly one idea that it keeps repeating over and over. It puts me in a good mood but I expect the juries to absolutely detest this and I wouldn't be very surprised to see it with "nul points" from them. Maybe the viewers are more easily charmed but I wouldn't hold my breath.
Grade: 2/5

ITALY Måneskin / Zitti e buoni
On my list of things I didn't see coming was that Italy would out-rock Finland at the ESC. What I did expect, however, was for Italy once again to be at absolute top of this competition. Sanremo is such an incredible talent pool to fish your entries out of and this could very well be the year that their entry finally clicks with jury and audience alike. Noisy but awfully appealing to look at. Could be the hardest winner since Lordi.
Grade: 4/5

NETHERLANDS Jeangu Macrooy / Birth Of A New Age
I can't help but think of that paragraph in the rules stating no entry in the ESC can carry a political message when I hear the home entry. Jeangu - originally from Suriname - challenges the old Dutch idea that they were "cool colonialists" and good guys throughout history. And how he does it. Musically relaxing and intense at the same time, this is like a wonderful oasis in the line-up. This could easily become the best showing for a host country since Frans back in 2016 and the start of a brilliant career for Jeangu. I want to hear and see more, that's for sure.
Grade: 4/5

Can one of these six songs break through and win the whole thing? Possibly, but let me get back to that later. Let's just conclude that this is a strong year and the lack of an obvious frontrunner could make the voting very intense.

ESC 2021, semi 2: What about the songs that left us?


The semis are over. The lineup is complete. We know what 26 songs will fight it out to take the title and win the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest.

Just like in the first semi final, my prediction turned out rather nicely and I managed to pick nine out of ten qualifiers correctly. But just like on Tuesday, the one I got wrong meant one of my personal favourites missed out.

I'm just as blue for Denmark now as I was for Croatia then. For Denmark, this looked a bit like a new beginning at the ESC. In the last fifteen years or so, no other country have sent in as many ESC-only entries: songs that could have been created in a Eurovision Lab and that can only live and thrive within the very context of this tv show. With no life outside of it.

This year, Fyr og Flamme had been digging in the Danish pop history and made a song that could have been a local smash hit in 1986 or so. (If you don't believe me, check out my Laban playlist.) It went to number one in the charts and made the band household names. 

I'm just afraid tonight's results tells Denmark they shouldn't be themselves and contribute stuff they like but to go back to their regular stuff. And I will have to wait another two decades for a Danish entry I can like.

During the show not everyone shone, to say the least. Estonia, Czech republic and Georgia all lacked energy, Moldova didn't exactly nail every note of that performance and Poland's Old Kid On The Block was never going to go far.

Latvia had great energy but not much of a song and coming that late in the running order, you can't afford that. Austria was my borderline qualifier all along. Excellent vocal performance of a repetitive song. It could just as well have landed on the right side of the qualification line.

I could never be unhappy about Portugal going to the final but I really don't see what you see or hear what you hear. Pretentious at best, but mainly dull. Let's see how far it carries in the final.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

ESC 2021, semi 2: Tobson takes a guess

Overall the guessing game went fairly well on Tuesday. I lost one of my biggest favourites in Croatia but got nine out of ten finalists correct. That was nice. Let's see if we get even close in the second semi.

First of all, it is easy to point out the biggest loser of this semi as Iceland has withdrawn from performing live due to one of the band members testing positive for Covid. What a disappointing ending to the adventure for the entire team. I think Iceland will qualify for Saturday but they won't be able to perform then either. Imagine winning but not being there to receive your trophy? Heart-breaking.

Just like in the first semi, there are some songs that feel like obvious non-qualifiers. Not necessarily because they are bad but because they seem unlikely to be anyone's big favourite. Then some others fluctuate in some sort of danger zone and will need the millimetres on their side to go through.

ESTONIA and LATVIA are most likely to drop out - the first is too eager to please and the other wants too badly to be edgy at the expense of any real tune. Lithuania will represent the Baltics in final.

SAN MARINO managed to get their famous rapper into frame and that probably puts them firmly in the final. It is probably also the kiss of death for CZECH REPULIC, tapping into a similar musical pool for votes. If it was down to the song, I would clearly reverse the two.

AUSTRIA and PORTUGAL both aim for the musician vote, the one that Belgium supposedly got in the first semi. Both could possibly get away with it but I still think neither song is strong enough to do the trick. GEORGIA is also a very sweet effort that could sway musicians on the jury and - hey presto! - there are three songs to divide the musician vote. 

MOLDOVA and SERBIA are both going for the party vote and Hurricane clearly has the upper hand there. Reports have suggested Moldova hasn't impressed in rehearsals, but it still is a fun song. POLAND wants to be a fun song too, but their old-boy band approach isn't much by any standard.

GREECE is very good at going through and they have a strong chorus as well as a green screen. But they are also possibly eclipsed by Serbia. 

And then there is DENMARK. One of my two personal favourites tonight (SWITZERLAND is more than safe, though) and the first Danish entry I care for in almost two decades. It would be a real shame if their first relevant entry - in the sense that it would mean anything to anyone outside of the context of the ESC - got thrown out and it would definitely teach the Danish viewers the wrong lesson.

Since I clearly have no idea what I am doing, I will go out on a limb and predict using a fair share of wishful thinking. I'd rather predict the way I want it to be and stand there corrected in the end.

Tonight we will lose: Estonia, Czech republic, Austria, Poland, Georgia, Portugal and Latvia.

To the final: San Marino, Greece, Moldova, Iceland, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria, Finland, Switzerland and Denmark. (Please please pleeease let me be right about Denmark.)

I'll spend the evening on Twitter, please make me feel better if my predictions fall through.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Tobson speaks up: ESC 2021, semi 2


In no way do preview clips tell us all we need to know in order to judge the entries at Eurovision correctly. But no rehearsal clip in the world tells you the truth other. They're not designed to.

Rehearsal clips are teasers, meant to feed our appetite without giving too much away. Like a good movie trailer they should pick our interest without giving away any major plot twists in advance.

Many of the blogs reporting from the rehearsals fall into the trap that I myself have fallen so many times when on location: you start paying too much attention to small details - what gorgeous lighting, what a cool backdrop, what an odd camera angle - and forget the big picture. If your song isn't strong enough in the first place, few things can help you. It can happen, but it is fairly unusual.

So these reviews are written before I have seen anything from Rotterdam (on Monday night to be precise) and here are my views before anything else began to blur my judgment.

01. SAN MARINO Senhit / Adrenalina
This was a clever move of course: get an okay song from a bunch of Swedish songwriters - this song has a staggering amount of TEN people credited who probably contributed 18 seconds each - and spice it up with the help of a famous rapper. I have liked Senhit since Düsseldorf but while this is another suitable opener it also has an air of desperation to it. One of the songs I wish I liked more - one I wish I had genuinely liked - but just like last year, I don't fully connect with the material Senhit is working hard to make work.
My grade: 2/5

02. ESTONIA Uku Suviste / The Lucky One
I can't help but wonder what happened to the quirky Estonia that did their own things and went their own ways - sometimes brilliants, sometimes plain puzzling - but never really made the effort to be liked. This is a well-crafted little song, very carefully put together in order not to offend or push anyone away. Three cosy minutes and entry that does nothing wrong but that won't really matter to anyone either.
My grade: 2/5

03. CZECH REPUBLIC Benny Cristo / Omaga
It might sound harsh, but Benny Cristo is the first one on stage in this second semi that comes across as genuinely doing their thing because it is their thing, not because they think it is a way to grab votes. "Omaga" is a fun trip and a good mood but possibly a bit too difficult to get a firm handle on already on a first listen. I hope to see this in the final but it is borderline territory for sure.
Grade: 3/5

04. GREECE Stefania / Last Dance
Last year I wrote that the Greek "Dream Team" sounded a bit tired and in need of a holiday. Maybe they got some time off at some point, since their entry this year sounds a lot sharper. Or at least they found themselves a really strong chorus, but just like Cyprus the song takes cumbersome ways of getting there with a verse that drags the whole thing down instead of lifting it up and clunky lyrics that makes it no favours. Good enough for a decent placing in the final but it could easily have been a great deal better than it is.
Grade: 3/5

05. AUSTRIA Vincent Bueno / Amen
The second song called "Amen" this year - I doubt the larger audience will remember much about Slovenia at this point anymore - and clearly the better one. Not sure the lyrics are the most suitable I could have thought up during a pandemic but the vocal delivery is strong and the overall impression is good. With a bit of luck - Austria is often in need of luck, very much like Finland - it could squeeze into the final and cause at least a minor surprise.
Grade: 3/5

06. POLAND Rafał / The Ride
Poland sidestepped their candidate from last year - which they were free to do, of course - in favour of a former singer who is these days a tv-host at TVP - once a public service broadcaster, these days a mouthpiece for the government - armed with a Swedish pop ditty straight out of the budget department. The old saying goes "if you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all".
Grade: 0/5

07. MOLDOVA Natalia Gordienko / Sugar
One of the greatest efforts of Moldova at Eurovision is to bring a sense of humour and fun into the competition, an ambition they stay true to also this year. A fun video clip helped selling the song, but this "Siren Song"-light works pretty nicely in its own right. Reports from Rotterdam suggest the rehearsals have not been all that, but at least Natalia will make a better impression than she did in Athens fifteen years ago.
Grade: 3/5

08. ICELAND Daði & Gagnamagnið / 10 Years
The dullest kind of party you can be in must be the one where everyone is having a great time and you just don't get what it is they all enjoy. That's where I sit with this Icelandic entry. I totally do not understand what it is other people see in it. I really liked this bunch last year, but "10 Years" never take off, it never goes anywhere until it is suddenly over. If I'm wrong and everyone else is right and Iceland wins, I promise to be happy for them. But please explain because I just don't understand.
Grade: 2/5

09. SERBIA Hurricane / Loco Loco
Serbia's Mean Girls come storming (yes, yes) with the kind of song that makes Euroclub go crazy and I really enjoy their energy. I'm not all that easily swayed by the regular fan pleasers but this has something unusual and personable and puts me in the mood for dancing. I see the risk that the performance could turn a bit messy but I wouldn't let a bit of chaos dampen my mood. In my list, this is Serbia's best entry in the last ten years.
Grade: 4/5

10. GEORGIA Tornike Kipiani / You
Honestly I had anticipated some sort of noisy and user-unfriendly rock thingy along the lines of the song he had in store for us last year, so when I hear Tornike's song for 2021 I was very pleasantly surprised. Soft and melodic - sometimes it makes me think of "Annie's Song" by John Denver - it revealed a beating heart I didn't expect. Totally and utterly chanceless unfortunately, but a song I personally enjoy listening to.
Grade: 3/5

11. ALBANIA Anxhela Peristeri / Karma
Even if you didn't know which song represented which country, it would be fairly easy to pinpoint the entry of Albania. As soon as there is a dramatic female singer performing a dramatic ballad - not seldom wearing something dramatic to match - it's usually the one. "Karma" is one of the best efforts in the genre as of late as it combines the usual Albanian passion with a hit sensibility and also has a strong hook. Should be bang in the final.
Grade: 4/5

12. PORTUGAL The Black Mamba / Love Is On My Side
In the first semi I had to eat my words about Israel, while the song that grew on me the most in the second semi is Portugal. When I say it grew on me, it means I no longer have it in my last place. Some people will appreciate this smooth piece of lounge music - maybe enough to even tilt it into the final - but I still find it bland and unexciting. And I'm still not a fan of Very Nasal Voices.
Grade: 2/5

13. BULGARIA Victoria / Growing Up Is Getting Old
It's a bit much to ask for anyone to be totally brilliant two years in a row. Last year, Victoria was my personal winner with a very emotional song and Bulgaria is sticking to the same recipe now. This is very good - don't get me wrong - but not quite as good. Understated and pretty and very well sung this is bound to do well and is only a minor disappointment compared to what we almost had last year.
Grade: 4/5

14. FINLAND Blind Channel / Dark Side
Rock from Finland - or violent pop, if you so wish - is a dear old phenomenon that we haven't seen for a few years. A hit on home ground and a pretty sure qualifier, this one still somehow fails to rub me the right way. "Put your middle fingers up"? That's a fifth-grader's idea of the dark side. This wants to be a big monster roaring but is merely a fluffy kitten hissing. It has grown on me since the national final and could do reasonably well in the final but is pretty far from my personal cup of tea. When there is rock, I'd like a bit more claws than this.
Grade: 2/5

15. LATVIA Samanta Tina / The Moon Is Rising
Let's start with the positives: Aminata is still a very interesting songwriter and Samanta has a strong personality - she is a joy to watch and has the vocal chords to match. This is not your typical eurosong, to say the least. That's good, I like it when people challenge the formula. The negative part is that very much like Australia, I have listened and listened and never really found my way in. Maybe there is a good song waiting for me in there somewhere but I am yet to set eyes on it. So it is very likely that this package will be too demanding to hit the viewers on one listen.
Grade: 2/5

16. SWITZERLAND Gjon's Tears / Tout l'univers
Out of all really fantastic singers that populate the lineup of this year's Eurovision (and last year's) my big revelation remains Gjon's Tears. There is something so captivating and fascinating about him, his way of singing, his appearance and his way of answering press questions - or not. I must admit to being a bit worried as to whether they'd find a new song that would suit him as well as the first one but there was no need to worry. This year's Swiss entry is a firm little number making use of all Gjon's assets and framing them even better. A personal favourite and not an unlikely winner. Not at all.
Grade: 5/5

17. DENMARK Fyr og Flamme / Øve os på hinanden
Denmark has sent many, many years in some sort of Eurovision Limbo where they have sent entries to the ESC that have done well or reasonably well but that nobody has cared for much outside of the contest. It's fascinating to see that when they finally make a U-turn, explore their own pop history and enter a song that made it to number one in the local hit parade, a lot of people expect it to flunk in the semi final. Maybe it will but I hear wonderful echoes of Hot Eyes, Snapshot and - most of all - Laban and can't help wonder if there are not plenty of people old enough to remember the 80's and willing to vote for this? Regardless, it is another one of my big personal favourites of 2021 and the first Danish entry I really care for in almost two decades.
Grade: 5/5

This whole post is a message from the past, written before the first semi final. My official prediction will drop on Tuesday and then we'll see if my antennae are as sensitive as ever or if they lost it.

ESC 2021, semi 1: What about the songs that left us?


That was it, the first semi final is in the bag. It was a really nice moment in front of the tv set (yes, I am old-fashioned) and everything went down rather well.

In my prediction I managed to get nine out of ten qualifiers correct and while I'm happy to see Belgium in the final, I feel a bit sad that Croatia was the one who had to miss out. 

I admit: it took me a while to get my head around Croatia so I can't blame anyone else for not getting it on a first listen. But I thought "Tick Tock" had a personality and a flair some of the other "girl with dancers"-entries were lacking. It's also a shame that the new ESC hype in Croatia is likely to fade out again.

I will focus on the finalists later in the week but what about the songs that missed out? 

Slovenia and North Macedonia relied too much on impressive vocals while not having songs that reached the same level. Especially Slovenia ended up sounding more aggressive than impressive in the high notes and the audience seldom enjoys that.

Ireland was the typical example of someone thinking up a smart stage concept that they decide to push through regardless if it suits the singer (or the song). The Irish number was apparently sophisticated and hard to set up but only distracted the singer from doing her job of singing the best she could. To a lesser extent, Romania's third consecutive failure comes down to the same thing. Sometimes it is better not to try so hard and focus on what matters instead.

Australia lost out for the first time and unsurprisingly so. I applaud the effort to be yourself and do something unorthodox for the contest, but "Technicolour" only ever felt complicated for the sake of being complicated. It never felt genuine or like an organic piece of songwriting. Too bad about Montaigne who is a truly fascinating performer.

So where will Australia go from here? They are still the exception in the line-up and the one in need of special permission to take part. Will they be granted a longer stay or should they focus on getting Eurovision Asia to finally take off?

Dutch tv made a good show even if they had some technical difficulties between a few of the entries. I enjoyed the full focus on performers and performances without having camera shots obstructed by huge flags or having close-ups of random people in the audience during the songs. I want to see the audience before and after the songs, not during. Can we take a note of this for future years, please?

Without commenting further on the current situation I was also happy to see Eden Alene get a place in the final. She performed really well and it was a relief that she was judged on that and nothing else.

Time to catch some sleep and then we regroup and refocus and look forwards to semi final 2 on Thursday.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

ESC 2021, semi 1: Tobson takes a guess


The first semi final is almost here so it is about time to do the impossible: predict what six entries will be voted off the island and end their Eurovision adventure tonight. I'm pretty sure about four of the unlucky ones but then a number of entries float around in the risk area of relegation.

To my surprise SWEDEN has failed to make an impression in Rotterdam. The first rehearsals left the press on location cold and Tusse had problems with his voice as well as with his in-ears. All of this should be sorted by now and "Voices" have risen in the press estimation but there is no buzz.

I'd like to think NORWAY is through thanks to a good song but the stage appearance runs the risk of pushing people away. Not sure the silly (not to say outright creepy) online flirt between him and Efendi was the best publicity either.

Efendi from AZERBAIJAN is another one I'm not sure about. I think her fans liked her song from last year and fail to see that tonight's rewrite lacks all the energy the original had. And the vast majority of the audience have not heard the first version.

ROMANIA is a song I am very fond of, but news reports suggest she has been singing badly all week. ISRAEL should sail into the final on Eden Alene's personality alone but there is a real risk people do not wish to vote for this because of the current events. 

BELGIUM could be drowned in jury points from musicians appreciating a "musician's entry" but could also lack the dynamics needed to impress people at home. And my beloved CROATIA could prove to be that one song with dancers too many. 

But there is no point in name-dropping, it is time to take a bold stand and do a real prediction.

Tonight we will lose: Slovenia, Australia, North Macedonia, Ireland, Romania and Belgium.

To the final: Lithuania, Russia, Sweden, Cyprus, Norway, Croatia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Malta

I'll spend the entire semi on Twitter, feel free to join the fun: chat with me, agree with me, tell me I'm wrong. (I'd love to be wrong about Belgium, really.)

Monday, May 17, 2021

Tobson speaks up: ESC 2021, semi 1


When is it too late to review the entries based on the previews? I had planned to do it during April but never found the time. And tomorrow we will see the first semi from Rotterdam.

So many people have already seen clips from the rehearsals and read countless impressions from what goes on when the countries rehearse. I haven't watched any footage but read people's opinions and now my idea is this.

Maybe right before the semi is a good time to take a step back and forget what has been seen and heard and just refocus on the songs? 

So, here goes. My opinion on the 16 songs in the first semi final with very little attention paid to what has gone down in Rotterdam so far.

01. LITHUANIA The Roop / Discoteque
This is the gutsiest choice of semi final opener since Sweden in 2017 - typically producers go for something with energy and quality but seldom a favourite. "Discoteque" has been very much of a favourite - and is one of the songs I enjoy the most this year - and has that hardcore 80's synthesizer vibe I thought would be a lot more in vogue this year than it eventually turned out to be. A banger, as the kids would say. Probably a bit too edgy to be a potential winner but a sure-fire finalist and The Roop have a fair chance of returning home with the best Lithuanian placing ever.
My grade: 5/5

02. SLOVENIA Ana Soklič / Amen
If it is cool and unexpected to open with a real contender, then the dullest trick in the book is to put some real shark feed at the number two spot - the spot that never won. One year I'd love to see that year's Rybak or Euphoria give the second slot, just to make competition a bit more open. This is perhaps the least likely song to pass on to the final. Overblown, pretentious and gives Ana's voice - which I enjoyed last year - a very hard and unreasonable tone. Technically there's nothing wrong with it, but if feels preachy and hard to enjoy.
My grade: 1/5

03. RUSSIA Manizha / Russian Woman
If you had asked me what kind of entry I would have expected Russia to send to Rotterdam, the answer would have been "not this, at least". A message and a tone that has stirred up a large amount of emotion back home and I just keep wondering how this song ever made it through the Russian tv self-censorship. Is there a hidden resistance movement hiding in the wings? Manizha is a brilliant stage personality and that will take her far, but ultimately this song is probably a bit too much to swallow for the average viewer/voter. Should be in the final but this year more than ever, it feels like we are in for some surprises when the finalists are revealed.
My grade: 3/5

04. SWEDEN Tusse / Voices
A certain portion of the online fandom enjoys nothing more than putting Sweden down and predict doom and gloom for the Swedish entries. I do not want to belong to that group but if you read my Melodifestivalen review, you will know how "Voices" was never a song I warmed to. Tusse is a very charming and enjoyable performer but I can't shake the feeling that Sweden might have done what Finland so often does: thinking we have really found something great only for Europe not to appreciate it at all. Or at least nowhere near as much as we do ourselves. For me, this is competent and solid but is lacking that final something to make it memorable. Now it just stands there, being competent and solid, without even once reaching out to me.
My grade: 3/5

05. AUSTRALIA Montaigne / Technicolor
Last year I grew to like "Don't Break Me" quite a lot, but only for as long as I didn't watch the pretentious and overloaded live performance. This year, I have really tried to like "Technicolor". It has so many things I want to see at the ESC: a performer doing their own thing, without adapting to the contest formula, without trying to be liked. But every time this song almost takes off, Montaigne does her all to make it more complicated than it really is and before three minutes come to an end I have totally lost interest. Like an Australian Björk in the middle of a temper tantrum. Out?
My grade: 1/5

06. NORTH MACEDONIA Vasil / Here I Stand
Last year, Vasil was among my personal favourites with the playful and sensual "You". Imagine my disappointment when he went down the same road as Slovenia and decided to go full musical ballad belter. I am sure he has poured a lot of himself into this song but it doesn't make it more interesting to listen to, unfortunately. Vasil is a great singer and someone I want to support, and I do. But this song is not the right vehicle if you wish to collect a whole lot of points at the ESC.
My grade: 1/5

07. IRELAND Lesley Roy / Maps
An energetic opening and a pretty effective verse are suddenly followed by the rest of the song where very little happens and the same things get repeated over and over again. Your typical radio song, in other words. A song that can be easily faded in or out at any time if needed. Works well on the radio but usually lacks the dynamics to attract votes. This one will need one heck of a performance to qualify.
Grade: 2/5

08. CYPRUS Elena Tsagrinou / El Diablo
Every time the chorus kicks in I get that wow-feeling, thinking this is really a good pop song. And then that feeling always evaporates again. Apart from the slick Lady Gaga-esque chorus, this is the typical clichéd idea Swedish songwriters have of what latino songs sound like and we've had an abundance of them in Melodifestivalen through the years (this very year we had a variation on these elements performed by Alvaro Estrella) and I struggle to see why Cyprus of all countries should be represented by this. Also I find it a bit sad that Cyprus - a country that fostered so many fantastic singers - have not been represented by any local talent for several years already.
Grade: 2/5

09. NORWAY Tix / Fallen Angel
One of the hardest entries to evaluate this year. On one hand side there is the song which is an usually good take on the light pop / boyband genre that always has its fans. On the other hand there is all the styling choices going on in this entry - not just the justified sunglasses - that could easily distract anyone's attention away from the actual song. I wish there would be more focus on the strong chorus but I want to believe we will see this one in the final.
Grade: 3/5

10. CROATIA Albina / Tick Tock
If we assume "Babes With Bangers" is a genre then we have four of those songs in this first semi: Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Malta and this. That could mean they will fight it out for the same votes and split the points between each other, causing one or several of them to fail. It seems fairly plausible that similar entries will cancel each other out. If so, I hope Europe will warm to Croatia and hear how it possesses quite a few quirks and personality traits and how it is very much its own thing. Albina is a terrific pop star and this is a terrific pop song. Should be bang in the final in a perfect world.
Grade: 4/5

11. BELGIUM Hooverphonic / The Wrong Place
The Belgians are not happy and I like them fine like that. This moody piece makes my mind drift off towards "I Wish I Could Fly" by Roxette in a very good way. Great vocal delivery and a tense atmosphere. The only thing I could still wish for would have been a little bit of climax, still. It took a few listens too many to find the handle of the song and that could cost you in an ESC semi.
Grade: 3/5

12. ISRAEL Eden Alene / Set Me Free
You could say this is the first time of the year where I will have to eat my words. When "Set Me Free" was released I thought it was a good production but with very little of a song going on. I always found myself bored before the first minute was over. One successful revamp and the addition of the highest notes ever sung at the ESC was all it took, and Eden is a really good performer at that. Having said all of that, it still remains a borderline qualifier that will need luck and goodwill to make it into the final cut.
Grade: 3/5

13. ROMANIA Roxen / Amnesia
I can't really tell what made Romania trip over the edge and suddenly no longer be a safe qualifier year after year. This is very likeable song with a message and a delivery that feels appropriate and genuine. A bit of a gamble to send a song that relies so much on the audience paying attention but I'm glad that Romania gambles. Would probably get eaten alive by Bulgaria if the two meet in the final, but I cross my fingers and toes for that to happen.
Grade: 3/5

14. AZERBAIJAN Efendi / Mata Hari
There is a certain type of song that only exists at Eurovision, always tailormade and designed for the contest with very little chance of a life outside of the competition. I often enjoy that kind of song when it is done well and staged with the right sort of conviction. Azerbaijan's "Cleopatra" last year was pretty much that and felt amusing and uplifting. This year the same team gives us exactly the same song but without any of the attack needed. This is microwaved leftovers and everybody involved knows it. 
Grade: 1/5

15. UKRAINE Go_A / Shum
Folk music on a flute meets a rave party at the edge of the apocalypse and somehow these two things merge seemlessly and just works beautifully together. Seriously, people. How do they do it in Ukraine? How can they so often offer entries that are so bold and original and challenge the whole Eurovision formula? If the EBU people are living in fear right now they absolutely should be: if the stars line up the right way, this could be a possible winner. Either way a 100% sure qualifier and it puzzled me throughout the season how anyone ever doubted that.
Grade: 5/5

16. MALTA Destiny / Je me casse
Ever since Destiny won Junior Eurovision, there has been talk that she could become the first one ever to win Junior as well as The Big One. That dream is within reach and wouldn't it be fantastic if Malta finally got to win? Having said that, this is still more of a good mood rather than a fully functioning song. Having a groove instead of an old-fashioned chorus is effective but risky and this entry relies very much on the charm and personality of Destiny. That's not a problem in the semi but the question is how far it will carry in the final.
Grade: 4/5

How I predict? Let's get back to that tomorrow. ESC 2021 feels wide open and picking the ten correct finalists out of this bunch seems close to impossible. But the overall quality is good and I foresee an entertaining show. Regardless of the outcome.